Miracle at the Wanderers: An oral history of 'The 438 Game'
From Herschelle's hangover to Ponting's fireworks to that last-over finish, this is the inside account of perhaps the greatest ODI of them all
At the Corlett Drive End of the Wanderers in Johannesburg, a sign proudly declares the famous venue to be the 'home of the greatest one-day international cricket match of all time'.
This isn't simply a partisan boast; the match the sign refers to, the fifth ODI between South Africa and Australia in 2006, was voted the best 50-over match ever in a global fan poll in 2011 and in South Africa, where it's referred to simply as 'The 438 Game', it's regarded as one of the most memorable sporting moments in the nation's cricket history.
To mark the anniversary, cricket.com.au spoke to five men who were at the Wanderers on March 12, 2006 – Proteas trio Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini, Australian Mike Hussey and broadcaster Mike Haysman – to re-live a truly remarkable game of cricket.
The memories of the day itself will never be forgotten, but the story begins the night before and centres around one of the most enigmatic players of his generation – Proteas batting star Herschelle Gibbs.
Mike Hussey: We were staying at the same hotel as the South Africans and we went out for dinner quite early, and Herschelle was just sitting in the bar. He was well on his way then, and when we came back two hours later, he was still sitting in exactly the same spot, and he was all over the place. That was at about 10 o'clock. And I remember before going to bed, looking down from my floor and he was still down there, yelling and screaming and calling out stuff. And I thought far out. It was a day game, so we were up early the next day …
Makhaya Ntini: The good thing was it was inside the team hotel. But he was drunk.
Mike Hussey: (Proteas coach) Mickey Arthur tells the story that they found out about it the next day, and Mickey and (captain) Graeme Smith wanted to drop Herschelle from the team then and there. But they didn't have a replacement batsman, so they said to him, 'This is not on, you're playing today because we've got no-one else, but next series you're going to be punished for this because this is ridiculous'.
Shaun Pollock: Herschelle was our naughty boy of South African cricket. When people would get into trouble, we'd often get fined and that would go into a team kitty and we would have meals on the back of it. Herschelle paid for his fair share, that's all I'll say. But I had no idea. I went to the ground early to do a fitness test, so I wasn't on the team bus with the rest of the team. I remember after failing my test, I was pretty dejected because I wanted to play. I just sat out the front of the rooms and when the guys came and did the warm-ups, I didn't see him out there.
Mike Hussey: At least they batted second so maybe he had a little bit of time to sober up. I think he's said in the past, if they'd batted first, he might have been in a bit of trouble.
Shaun Pollock: When Smithy came in from the toss, we were talking about how hard it is to defend on that ground.
Mike Haysman: It was just going to be another normal game but when things got underway, we realised that Australia were doing something just ridiculous. I remember the commentary stints just whizzing past because there was so much action. The ball was pinging all over the place. With the thin air, we'd always seen balls travel a bit at the Wanderers, but nothing had travelled like this. Ricky Ponting was just ridiculous.
Mike Hussey: Everything just aligned; beautiful batting conditions, thin air on the High Veldt, short boundary on one side. From a batting perspective, the conditions were perfect. Ricky was going well at one end, they wanted him to take on the short boundary and they wanted a left-hander at the other end. So I went in ahead of (Michael) Clarke and (Andrew) Symonds and knowing that I had Ricky at the other end and Symonds and Clarke behind me, I remember saying to Ricky, 'I may as well just go for it'. You go for it and when you get away with a few, your confidence grows. You just have complete freedom and you know it doesn't matter if you get out. And when you're like that, you can be dangerous.
Makhaya Ntini: Every time us bowlers would finish an over, we'd just run away because we wouldn't want to be called back by the captain to bowl again.
Mark Boucher: I was in awe. Sure, they were short boundaries, but Ricky Ponting came out and everything he swung at just hit the middle of the bat. And it wasn't just clearing the rope by one or two metres, it was going 30 or 40 metres over the rope. It was a good innings to watch … I always look back and think I saw a fantastic innings from probably the best seat in the house.
Mike Hussey: During the Australian summer and that series, John Buchanan had always been challenging the team to score 400 in a one-day international. And we just kept laughing at him, saying, 'Mate, it can't be done. They put the field back, it just can't be done'. And he said: 'You can do it – I believe you can do it'. And sure enough we showed up, they were beautiful batting conditions, and we got to 400. And not just 400 – we got to 434.
Shaun Pollock: We were sitting there watching in the rooms, and when the boys came in at the innings break, it was just deathly silence. Everyone was so disappointed. And Jacques Kallis was one of the last in and he just walked in and said: 'The bowlers have done their job boys – I reckon they're 10 or 15 short'.
Makhaya Ntini: It was just so quiet. The coach didn't say anything. The captain didn't say anything. But then Jacques walked in and said that … and that's when the ice was broken. Everyone just started laughing.
Mark Boucher: Jacques never said much in the changerooms so when he did, guys listened. I thought that broke the ice very well and calmed the guys down. We realised we were going to have to play some unbelievable cricket to win the game, but it gave us some momentum from a freedom point of view. That was the intention of him saying that.
Mike Hussey: We were obviously feeling pretty confident at the halfway mark. I remember Ricky saying to the team before we went out to field to take the score out of it, pretend we've got 200 on the board and let's defend 200. That was our focus. I don't think we came out complacent or anything like that.
Mike Haysman: Boeta Dippenaar got out in the second over of the run chase, and he thinks he should be man of the match for it. Because he got out and let the stroke players come in, he reckons he did the team a hell of a favour.
Shaun Pollock: When Herschelle got going that day – sheesh. People weren't even celebrating sixes. Clapping for a six was like clapping for a single because of how quickly it was going.
Mike Haysman: Gibbs was just going crazy, despite the possibility of a suspension hanging over his head because of missing the curfew. The meeting was meant to be happening after the game. He just played out of his skin. It was amazing.
Shaun Pollock: He was the kind of guy who would push the envelope at times and when he did something, he went big. Much like that innings. If he decided to have a night out, he would go big. If he decided to have some KFC, he would have a whole bucket. That was Herschelle's personality – he was either all in, or not at all.
Makhaya Ntini: We all knew him, he was that typical guy that was forever fresh. I even said to him and in front of everyone, 'We should let Herschelle Gibbs drink every night'. He scored 175 after a night out. To do that, it's mind-blowing.
Mike Hussey: As the legend goes, Herschelle scored the runs and as he was walking off, apparently he just looks at Mickey Arthur and just gives him a little wink and says, 'There you go Mickey – no worries!'. That just sums up Herschelle Gibbs.
Shaun Pollock: It probably suited him that he had that night out because it meant he wasn't thinking too much or getting too anxious. He was just trying to pull himself together in many ways and that probably played into our hands with the way he played.
Mike Hussey: Herschelle was just absolutely out of this world and they got off to a flyer. Ricky's target of 200 – I think they got that by about 20 overs. And they kept putting the comparisons on the big screen: after 20 overs, they were 20 runs ahead of us; after 30 overs they were still 20 runs ahead.
Mike Haysman: I distinctly remember at the halfway point … we were doing some sums to try and work out what the South African side had to do from there. And then I just started laughing to myself because I just realised it was crazy. I said, 'There's no way they're going to get there so I don't even know why I'm bothering to do this'. Despite them being where they were, they had to do so much as well. It was just impossible.
Mike Hussey: Graeme Smith batted really well as well, he scored 90-odd in no time. They just kept going and we just couldn't stem the flow of runs. As a fielder, I just felt helpless. It felt like every single over there was a four and a six. You're thinking, Surely they can't win. But they kept putting those comparisons up on the screen and they were always miles ahead of where we were. So you start thinking, Hang on – they're going to win, they're going to do it. It was bizarre.
Shaun Pollock: I remember sitting next to Makhaya, who's very vocal at the best of times. Every time there was a six, he would go, 'Yeah baby!' and he was shouting and all this. And I said, 'Don't you get too excited, you might have to go and bat at some stage!'
Makhaya Ntini: I said, 'Polly, if I go in and bat and need to hit the winning runs, we'll be in trouble'.
Mike Hussey: I think at the start, they thought, We can't win, let's just go for it and see what happens. And then it got to the 40- or 42-over mark, they maybe started thinking, We can actually win this game. And they lost a bit of momentum there and we got back into the game.
Mike Haysman: It would have been impossible not to tighten up. The atmosphere was absolutely stupendous. Chock-a-block, 30,000 people at the Wanderers and the thing about the Wanderers is when it's full like that, the people feel like they're right on top of you because the banks are so steep. I think there was a bit of concern (that they might fall short) at one stage, but … when you've got someone like Mark Boucher there, you know if it gets tight, he's going to dig deep and do what he can do.
Mark Boucher: When I was batting, I wasn't hitting the middle of the bat at all. My job was just to stay there and see what happened if I was there at the back-end of the game. And thankfully it worked out like that.
Mike Hussey: It got down to the last over … and I remember thinking, How has it got to this? We've scored 434 and they're a chance to win this game.
Mark Boucher: I was actually really disappointed because the first ball of that over, I hit Brett Lee on the ankle. It was probably the ball I timed the best all day and it would have gone to the boundary for four. So I was feeling a bit hard done by. But Andrew Hall came in and hit a great shot that went to the boundary to bring us closer.
Shaun Pollock: Hally hit a boundary and everyone was out of their chairs, shouting and pumping their fists. And I looked across at Makhaya, who was the last man in, and he was sitting dead still, holding his bat, with his helmet on. He was just silent.
Makhaya Ntini: I was done. I was absolutely done. I was so nervous.
Mark Boucher: We'd played the whole game in a 'no fear' way and I didn't want Hally to change that. But obviously I'd been in one or two very tight games against Australia, like in the World Cup, and I found myself in that moment again. He saw the next ball and he obviously thought it was there to go over the top. And if you're going to commit, you've got to commit 100 per cent. But it didn't quite work out like that.
Shaun Pollock: That last over was nerve-wracking because we had it won. There was no way Australia should have got out of that, but then Hally got out and then all of a sudden it was open.
Mike Hussey: Binga got that wicket and then Makhaya came out with two runs still to win. So I'm thinking, Come on Binga! Just hit the stumps, hit the pads, knock him over and we can get away with a win. Amazing to think that – we've got 434 and we're trying to get away with a win!
Makhaya Ntini: When I walked out, Boucher left the pitch and walked to the side of the ground to talk to me. But it was like my ears were completely blocked, it was so loud.
Mark Boucher: I was a bit nervous about Makhaya coming in. Makhaya's got a massive backlift, so I just told him to try and get his bat down somehow. And then he played an unbelievable paddle down to third man off leg stump.
Shaun Pollock: That's probably the best single he ever achieved. An inswinging yorker that was going to crash into leg stump, and he somehow got it down to third man for one. Unbelievable. To be honest, we always used to have team meetings where we'd say, 'There's no way you can hit Muralidaran through extra cover' and he often used to do that. He would get bowled soon after that, but he could do things that other batsmen couldn't.
Makhaya Ntini: I don't even know how I got it there. I just ran and when I was standing at the other end, I just thought 'Hallelujah!'.
Mark Boucher: Makhaya ran past for the single and he was shouting and screaming. And I was just thinking, 'I'm the only guy who can cock this up now'.
Mike Hussey: My heart sank a little bit when he managed to squirt one down to third man. But they still had to hit those winning runs.
Mark Boucher: When Brett was running into me, I was just thinking about how we'd played the whole game with no fear so I'm not going to fear anything now. Michael Clarke was at mid-on, but he was very close in to save the single. Knowing the Wanderers wicket, if you get anything full and I saw it early enough, I was going to try and pop it over the top. It only needed a half hit to get it over the top, it wasn't like I was trying to hit the ball for six. I just had to keep my shape and back myself to do it. And thankfully it worked.
Mike Haysman: The end was just pandemonium. My job was to go downstairs and interview Mark Boucher after he scored the winning runs. There were just so many celebrations with the players so it took him quite a bit of time to come over to me. He would circle around towards me … and then he'd be swamped by someone else. It was just a crazy victory.
Shaun Pollock: It was chaos. Blokes were jumping over the balcony, jumping down the stairs, just to get out onto the field.
Mark Boucher: The biggest thing for me was to walk off and see one or two people very emotional and actually crying. It was nice to be a part of a team that gave people that sort of emotion, especially in trying times for our country. I've often equated it to what it must feel like to win a World Cup. We never had that, to win a World Cup, so it's the closest we have to really celebrate with people and really see the emotion in their eyes as well. To be a part of the game that was so close and so tight and to finally be able to get one over the Aussies, because we'd been on the receiving end so many times, it was nice. And to win the series as well.
Makhaya Ntini: Remember that 1999 World Cup? That was only thing that was going through my head. All of those games when South Africa had got close but not gone through, that's what I was thinking about.
Mike Hussey: I don't think I was angry, I was just in disbelief. It was like a dream. But 'Punter' (Ponting), I just remember him smashing his shoes on the floor a hundred times. He was angry. But I think everyone reacted a little bit differently to it. Some were angry, some were in disbelief, some were a bit bemused by it all.
Shaun Pollock: No-one wanted to leave. We wanted to enjoy the moment. We did our victory lap afterwards, we all went to go find Bouch to celebrate on the field, Makhaya too. We'd often ended up on the wrong end of so many matches against Australia. It was the arch enemy, so it was a good celebration afterwards.
As part of South Africa's world record score of 9-438, Australian paceman Mick Lewis registered figures of 0-113 from 10 overs, the most expensive in ODI history
Mike Hussey: I really felt for him. As a player at that level, you want to have respect from your peers. That's what you really want. He was a bloody good player and I think he would have felt a little bit embarrassed, and that's understandable. The guys got around him and made him feel the best he possibly could. But I honestly believe it affected him for a long time after that. He lost a bit of self-confidence and self-belief and – dare I say it – maybe a little bit of that respect from his peers diminished. Not from inside our dressing-room, and maybe that wasn't actually true. But if I was in his shoes, you'd feel that yourself, whether that was fact or not.
Mark Boucher: Yeah, I do feel sorry for him. He never got another chance, which is quite sad. But these are the sort of things that people just have to deal with. There's been a couple of our players who have been on the receiving end of some harsh Aussie batting and never got another chance. It is what it is, unfortunately. I don't think he bowled too badly, to be honest. We got a couple of streaky fours here and there, Herschelle took a liking to him. The game is about small margins, and if Herschelle was out there (Gibbs was dropped on 131 off Lewis's bowling) it could have been a lot different for him. But I suppose that's life, eh?
Mike Hussey: It wasn't his fault. It was just one of those days.
Mark Boucher: Looking back at that game, it probably changed the way people thought about the game of one-day cricket. It was just a fantastic spectacle to be a part of … it's nice to have been part of a game that they make a DVD about.
Mike Haysman: I've got five copies of the DVD at home. I just had to get them. And occasionally when I think about it, I'm still stunned about it. But I don't think it changed cricket, no. I think everyone just put it down to a unique day. Other teams doing it more consistently years later changed that, but that day was just a spectacular day of cricket.
Mike Hussey: For our team, we didn't have the belief that we could score 400. But when two teams go and do it in the one day, it gives other teams and other players belief that it can be done. And it's shown that there's been a lot more 400 scores recently. It was probably a gradual thing for it to happen.
Makhaya Ntini: Nobody in history had ever thought there could be a team that could score 434 in 50 overs. And for someone else to make 438? Never. Cricket at that time, it was almost like a war between our two countries. And when you beat Australia, you would get recognised as a great team. It's made a lot of difference to our lives and our cricket, to be a part of that.
Shaun Pollock: When you finish your career, there's certain things you look back on with joy. And that was a mega moment for us to chase that down. It had never been done before. It was a career highlight, and that whole series was a great series as well. It was competitive, it was exciting, and I personally went well so I look back on that fondly. To be part of that, as a rarity, you can't write those kinds of scripts.